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See what market experts predict for various markets related to SI, PI and EMI applications.

Silicon Photonics: Vital Technology for Next-Gen Data Centers and Beyond

April 12, 2021

The world’s hunger for data is typically growing, fueled by applications ranging from social media networks and streaming platforms to genomics-driven medicine and the proliferation of connected devices within the IoT. In fact, the growth in mobile computing is soaring to all new heights today.

All the telecommunication mediums generally rely on electric wiring to transmit data. Moreover, economically priced and reliable copper wires have over the years linked ever larger quantities of transistors and support circuitry on even smaller chips for decades now.

However, it appears that with the advent of chip miniaturization trend, the shortcomings of copper wire have come into light. Downsides of copper wire applications like limited bandwidth, crosstalk between adjacent wires, and current leakage has introduced the need for a solution for connecting various mobile networks globally.

One such solution is photonics technology which can be made using inexpensive, high volume manufacturing methods. And with a stellar demand for the technology in the telecommunications sector, the entry of silicon photonics can be regarded as a ‘supermodel in electronics runway’.

What has been attracting various electronics makers towards the silicon photonics technology is that it can be built just like a normal computer chip but with precisely patterned silicon to transmit information-carrying laser signals. Being able to carry huge amounts of data while consuming relatively lesser power and without heating up or causing any degeneration or disturbance in signals, silicon photonics are poised to disrupt an expansive range of technologies.

It has been estimated that the global silicon photonics industry is set to record an annual remuneration of USD 3 billion by 2026, given the technology’s prominent use in various applications including seamless connectivity in data centers and optical communication.

Silicon photonics scope in next-gen data centers

Given that there are nearly 8.4 million data centers worldwide, the traffic growth in these facilities is dynamically rising. In fact, according to Cisco Global Cloud Index 2019, the annual data center IP traffic is estimated to exceed 20 Zettabytes by 2021 end.

This outbound traffic is enunciating the need for high-speed connectivity between servers and switches, generating the demand for silicon photonics. These components are being widely recognized as an attractive technology in the DCs for integrating the important building blocks of optical links. With this scalable technology, all the low-power and compact transceivers can now be implemented at relatively lower costs and increased manufacturing volumes by making use of the existing CMOS fabrication infrastructure.

Ever since Intel, one of the largest chipmakers, announced launch of its silicon photonics products for data centers, the who’s who of the industry are going nine yards for streamlining the connectivity operations in some of the world’s largest data centers.

Laying emphasis on Intel’s introduction of silicon photonics solutions, it was revealed that the tech-giant had in 2016 rolled out its first silicon photonics portfolio for data center network with 100G machine-to-machine connectivity. Considering its success ratio, the company had also raised claims of introducing 400G interconnects for data center switches in the couple of years, the demonstration of which was put up in 2019.

Moving from Intel to the consistent efforts undertaken by other companies, it would be pivotal to state the mention of Teramount. Even amidst the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis, the Jerusalem-based photonics-plug solutions firm was successful in securing USD 8 million from its existing investors to enable silicon photonics for next-gen semiconductor connectivity. The revolutionary move would induce high-speed optical connectivity, 5G, data com and performance computing applications for next-generation data center facilities.

Contribution of silicon photonics in the medical and healthcare industry

With the coronavirus pandemic taking a major toll globally, aligned with the expanding prevalence of various life-threatening diseases, the need for proper methods of diagnosis or monitoring has left the healthcare business to ask for more. And in this regard, the introduction of electronic ICs has emerged as a fundamental component in medical devices for over while now.

In fact, photonic ICs are bringing in value addition for a broader range of medical diagnosis and therapy, paving way for the deployment of silicon photonics in vivid medical equipment and devices.

Research and developments in these fields have been going on in full swing today. Speaking of which, researchers at the technical University of Munich and Helmholtz Zentrum Munchen had in 2020 announced creating the world’s smallest ultrasound detector. The detector, based on compact photonic circuits on a silicon chip, boasts of a size 100 times smaller than a human hair. The novel detector poses the ability to visualize parameters that are relatively smaller than previously possible.

In yet another instance, Rockley Photonics, a leading supplier of integrated silicon photonic chips, had in late March declared entering a strategic agreement with SC Health Corp., for catalyzing the commercial launch of the former’s unique sensing and monitoring platform.

In lieu of the given applications and industry efforts, many enterprises and industries are now viewing silicon photonics as an inevitable component for computers and monitoring devices. As the technology is touted to mature in the coming years, chances are that supercomputers would likely reach the exascale speed around human brain’s processing power at the neural level.

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